Tag Archives: straight and level

Day 13: Lessons 15 and 16 – 11th circuit and Basic Instrument Flying (a little bit of awesome)

Date: 18/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.20 0.00 0.70
Total to date 17.14 0.00 0.70

My newly qualified Private Pilot blog friend Flying Ninja told me recently that his experience training for his PPL was a mixture of fantastic highs and serious lows. I’ve come today – in a good way! – to realise the truth of his words.

Today’s flight training – 2 lessons, in spite of crappy weather – was a just a sweet little bit of awesome.

On the negative side, today’s pre-solo checkride did not happen. The weather has been dodgy for 3 or 4 days now (and is expected to remain so until at least Tuesday next week). Today was broken cloud with bottoms of 2000 to 2500 feet, which in itself would not have ruled out a possible solo, but there was just enough crosswind – about 10 knots – for my instructors to rule it out for today. I’d more or less expected weather to step in today, so I wasn’t that perturbed. The weather will improve, John thinks I’m ready to solo and it’s just a matter of finding the right day (hopefully next week). Fortunately, there’s still a heap of other things we can knock off while waiting for the solo, including – started today, as I’ll relate – basic instrument flying.

Right now I’m pretty sanguine about the solo situation. I’m flying nearly every day at the moment, hopefully – surely! – an opportunity will arise in the next few days?

On the hugely positive side, today was a day where almost everything just worked out well – no, what I should say is, I did almost everything well. So much so that after today’s 2nd lesson, not only did I feel a huge surge of satisfaction and confidence, but my instructor clearly did too. Afterwards in the clubhouse he came over to me expressly to shake my hand and express how well I’d done today.

Praise indeed, and music to my ears. John’s not a hard man, but he is a professional flying instructor and he wants me to learn to a high standard – as he said yesterday, not just to learn to fly, but to learn to be a pilot. He is not miserly with praise, but nor is he lavish with it, so when you get some, you know you’ve done well. So after today, details of which I’ll relate below, I felt an injection of confidence that, in addition to John’s assessment, makes me personally feel ready for my solo.

At the end of yesterday, I did not feel ready to solo. Almost, but not quite. Today, I feel ready.

So. Today I was back in November Foxtrot Romeo (NFR), in which (coincidentally) I did my first hour on circuits. I feel so fond of NFR after today that I felt bound to photograph her this afternoon when I closed her out.

Circuit training

This morning was quite dark, with cloud bottoms at 2100 feet, no good for the 2nd lesson on stalls that we still want to get done in the training area but still perfectly OK for circuits. With the maxim that “you can never do enough circuits”, we hit the runup bay for runway 11 right and ran through our run-up and pre-flight checks, only to be informed by the tower that there would be a 10-minute delay and we were advised to position ourselves within sight of the tower and shut down. Which we did. For no clear reason, as the circuit only appeared to have 2 or 3 aircraft in it at the time, but after 10 minutes a wave from the tower got us back onto the radio, to hear that the aircraft ahead of us was cleared for the circuit and we were cleared for startup. Another few minutes and we were lining up and away.

Unfortunately the crosswind this morning was not strong enough to qualify technically as a crosswind lesson, but it was enough that on takeoff and landing I had to crab the nose of the aircraft a good 10 degrees to my right to maintain course and not get blown over onto runway 11 centre. Particularly for my landings, this was a good challenge, as I dealt with it much better than one of my earlier circuit lessons which entailed mild crosswind. So score a few marks for that.

Not much else remarkable about the lesson itself. 5 or 6 circuits – with plenty of traffic, requiring me to slow down even from late upwind and onto my crosswind and downwind legs. But 2 of my landings scored a “7.5/10” from John – by far the best so far – and they felt fantastic. Alignment lovely all the way down. Sufficient use of pedal to stay in line (though I could do more still). Good control of airspeed around 70 knots right over the airport fence and down to 65 then 60 on the runway threshold. And that lovely chirp sound as the tires gently kiss the runway – I got them! Several times! It wasn’t just chance, my best landings are just getting better.

John remarked afterwards that he’d actually enjoyed that lesson. Lovely feedback. I’m sure I will do many poorer landings in my flying career, but I now can truly say and claim that I’m getting that final landing flare sorted out.

Basic Instrument Flying

With no chance of a solo checkride this afternoon, John decided – with wholehearted endorsement from me – that we’ll plough ahead with other lessons that we can do straight away while we wait to get the first solo done. So, today I had my first experience of instrument flying. And I’m happy to say that – by either luck or some natural skill, or a bit of both – I did very well indeed.

After 10 hours on the circuits it was nice to get on a different runway (11 left for arrivals/departures) and out into the training area. Taking off and turning left, we made for Parramatta while climbing to 1500 feet. While we were doing this, John directed me to keep my eyes on my cockpit instruments to get an initial “feel” for flying the aircraft on instruments only. My primary reference was my attitude indicator (angle of the aircraft’s nose above or below the horizon) with constant reference also to airspeed indicator and altimeter, and also to my other instruments and my tachometer.

After five minutes of this, out came the hood! This slips over your head and is like a visor that blocks your view straight outside but lets you look at your instruments. And for the next 40 minutes I wore that hood and flew NFR entirely by reference to my flight instruments, following John’s directions to climb, descend, turn, maintain directed headings and on 3 occasions do a 180-degree level turn.

It sounds a bit scary, perhaps, but I honestly didn’t feel that. (Though I’m sure that if I found myself in real IMC – instrument meteorological conditions – the fear would be equally real). It was more of a very enjoyable and interesting challenge. And according to John afterwards, I handled it very well. (Perhaps those hundreds of hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator had to count for something!)

Apparently during the Private Pilot License training you must have 2 hours of “Basic Instrument Flying”. This, apparently, is intended to try to give you some sort of fighting chance of surviving if you ever find yourself trapped in real IMC conditions – though as a VFR pilot this should theoretically never happen. Apparently the statistics say that non-instrument rated pilots survive for an average of just 90 seconds (or 147 seconds according to a CASA publication I saw last year) in cloud. So it’s a pretty serious deal. At the very least, it’s intended to set you up to attempt to fly out of cloud by being able to execute a level 180-degree turn and go back the way you came.

My most interesting recollection of today’s lesson is:

Insight #17

Everything you read about instrument flying is true. Your senses can have you absolutely convinced that you’re flying straight and level when in fact you’re in a 10 degree (or worse) bank. As happened to me today. Or when you’re in a far more dangerous flight attitude. So the discipline is simple, if extremely challenging, as I can now relate from personal experience: you have to ignore what your inner ear tells you and trust and fly to your instruments.

On the way back I flew “blind” as far as Warwick Farm Racecourse, then took off the hood and executed an extremely satisfying flapless landing on runway 11 left – of similar quality to my best landings from this morning – followed by 2 left-hand circuits with similar results. And I finally got the picture of what to do on my landing rolls.

Insight #18

On the landing roll, don’t apply the brakes straight away! Use your feet to align the nose of the aircraft with the runway centreline, and then start to smoothly apply brake after everything’s under control. Don’t take an early exit off the runway if you’re still rolling too fast, be patient and take the next one.

I don’t exactly know what kind of mental block I had around this one – subconsciously I was obviously feeling the need to throw out the anchor as soon as the aircraft was on the ground after landing. But funnily enough I needed to learn this rather obvious but of landing technique all over again. I don’t think I’ll forget it this time.

So all in all, an enormous amount of achievement, satisfaction and positive learning coming out of today. I may not have soloed, but I’m ready for it when it happens, and I’ve proven to myself that I can land like a real pilot. Maybe I’ll become one yet.

Day 3 – Lesson 2 – Straight and Level flight

Date: 03/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 1.10 0.00 0.00
Total to date 2.10 0.00 0.00

Woke up this morning to much better weather. Blue skies over our house, and when I got out to the aerodrome, ATIS was reading CAVOK. Which shows you how misleading automated weather readings can be, because it only took a quick look out the window to see a large bank of stratus cloud off to the north-east – the same bank of cloud I’d been cursing on my 1/2 hour commute from home! However, the rest of the sky was clear, and I was reasonably confident we’d get up for this morning’s first lesson.

I pre-flighted Sierra Foxtrot Kilo again (the same aircraft I’d hoped to fly in yesterday). I’m pretty sure no-one flew it yesterday as fuel in both tanks was up to tabs same as I left it yesterday. But I went through the external checks just the same, it’s great practice and (at this stage anyway) I kind of enjoy being out on the flight line alone with the plane I’m going to fly. It was a lovely cool morning with a light breeze and I took my time going through the checks and washing the windscreen.

My instructor John got here a little early and wondered how long I’d been here, having done all the pre-flight and got the ATIS report! But right now I have the luxury of getting out to the club with plenty of time before the flight, and I like to do the basic stuff and try to do it well – a philosophy which John thoroughly approved of, as would any instructor or good aviator.

Takeoffs today are from 29 right, and it felt better the second time round taxiing the aircraft out to the runway. The run-up checks were very instructive today, for two reasons. Firstly, we couldn’t actually do the run-up checks as soon as parked in the run-up bay because the oil temperature was not yet up and into the green. I missed this completely and would have blithely shoved the engine RPM up to 2000 before it was ready – but of course, John picked it up. So while waiting for the oil temperature to come up a bit, we did the pre-takeoff checks and in my wish to get through the checklist correctly I rushed all my instrument checks. John gently pulled me back and walked me through the importance of doing it all, slowly, correctly, in sequence. So it was a great little bit of learning:

Insight #2

NEVER, EVER rush the pre-flight checks. Walk methodically through each checklist item and close it out before moving on to the next. You don’t want to take so long that you risk things like engine overheat or spark plug fouling, but you need to make 100% sure all is in order before you take off.

After taxiing out to the runway and lining up on the centre line, much to my surprise, John instructed me to increase the throttle to full power and hold the aircraft on the centre line as we accelerated to takeoff speed. I wasn’t watching the airspeed indicator so I couldn’t say at what speed we rotated, but at the right time John instructed me to raise the nose of the aircraft and we were away. Man! This is a week full of cool firsts. I have (albeit under instruction) made a take-off for the very first time!

At 1500 feet John instructed me to turn right and we turned towards the coast with Sydney’s northern beaches in the distance. The lesson then started. We covered the fundamentals of maintaining straight and level flight – straight being “in a straight line towards your nominated destination point” and level being maintaining a consistent altitude without going up or down and all over the place.

So we did a series of exercise involving maintaining straight & level flight in different flight attitudes, including:

  • Normal cruise – engine ~ 2400 RPM
  • Slow cruise – engine ~ 2100 RPM
  • Fast cruise  – engine ~ 2600 RPM
  • And with flaps (obviously not in excess of VFE, which is the maximum speed you’re allowed to fly with flaps extended)

I did reasonably well with this, both by my self-assessment and also according to John. What was pretty ordinary, though, was my attention to keeping the aircraft in balance. What this means, in a nutshell, is keeping an eye on the ball in the turn coordinator and applying right or left pedal (rudder) as appropriate so that the aircraft neither skids or slips – both of which conditions make for inefficient flight and passenger discomfort. I found that with all the other stuff I was learning, I was neglecting to keep in balance. I remarked to John that this was the last thing that I was thinking of – he said that it should be the first – “the aircraft should always be in balance”.

No doubt I’ll get better at this as well as a thousand other things, but I think it qualifies as my third insight:

Insight #3

Watch the balance – keep the aircraft in balanced flight at all times!

Our flight this morning took us just over the coast over North Narrabeen Beach, so while I wasn’t really focusing on the sight seeing today, it was cool to do a hard right turn and look straight down at the surfers from 2000 feet – then to look over to the left and see the Sydney CBD in the distance. Definitely a good morning for a joy flight if that was your aim.

On the trip back to the airport – experiencing for the first time in the flight some turbulence which tested my straight and level flying – John noticed to his consternation that the transponder on the aircraft was not working, so this was duly noted on the Flight Docket handed in after the flight. My descent towards circuit height and on base and final legs were horrible (not that either I or John expected anything too flash) and he had to do some quick work to stabilise the aircraft and set it up for landing. But that, like so many other things, is something I will get better at.